Tips / Find An Auction
Sometimes, walking into an auction house can be as intimidating as walking into an art gallery. But in both cases, they’re not. They both want the same thing: They want you to buy from them. Click here for help in finding an auction house or yard sale near you.
To make the experience a little less fearful, I offer these tips.
First and foremost:
You are the buyer. You are in charge. You don’t have to buy anything. You can sit there as long as you want and observe. But trust me, you’ll eventually see something you must have.
The first-time bidder:
- Attend a few auctions to get a feel for the process, the auctioneers, the other bidders and the merchandise. Try out different auction houses to find the one that offers the merchandise you’re interested in.
- Go to Previews to check out the items. Preview times can be a day or two before the auction or on the same day but a couple hours before. Items are sold as-is, so the preview gives you a chance to examine them carefully.
- Don’t be afraid to touch items, comb through trays and box lots, and take items out of containers for inspection. A real auction house will not frown on it. Note: Box lots and trays are like grab bags of different types of items, sometimes related, most times not. These can be the best buys.
- Examine items closely for cracks, scratches and damage. Decide how much damage is OK.
- Note the composition of items: If it’s silver or gold, make sure you know how to tell. Same with jewelry: What’s costume and what isn’t. What’s signed and what isn’t. Does it matter to you? Most auction houses will promote signed pieces as a way to ensure multiple bidders.
- Jot down notes on items you like. After the Preview, do research: Google items to see how much they’ve sold for. Check Ebay auctions and online auction galleries for prices.
- Talk to other bidders if you have questions about the house. Question the staffers (usually they’re walking around the auction house and are very approachable) if you have questions about an item.
- Check the auction house’s website for photos. Most will post photos (and sometimes videos) of the upcoming auction. If you see something you like and recognize, Google it.
- Where does the merchandise come from? It comes from estates of people who have died and the family wants to clear out a house. Some items have sat for years in dusty attics or basements, and just need a little cleaning. Some people commission items for auctions. The pieces come from a variety of places.
At the auction house:
- You have to register to bid. Be sure to get a bid number from the office (you may need to leave a credit card number). Auction houses have different rules regarding bidding.
- Auctions charge a premium (fee) for your purchases. These vary by auction house, but can run from 10 percent to 20 percent. Some will reduce their premiums for cash purchases. You must also pay sales taxes.
- Again, talk to other bidders if you have questions about the auction house. Question the staffers (usually they’re walking around the house and are very approachable) if you have questions about an item.
- The bidding process: Depending on the item, auctioneers in their singsong call will start high and if there are no takers, they will drop the bid in increments. Some will not go below a certain amount (and once you know the auction house, you’ll know what that limit is). Hardly anyone takes the starting bid. Bidders wait for it to drop to $5 (or sometimes $2) before they start, followed by other bidders. The bid may reach and surpass the original starting point. Once you win the bid, show your number, which is posted with your bid price by a staffer on a computer (or in some auction houses on paper).
- Pay close attention to what you actually bid, and keep a tally of what you bought and the price. You can pay for your purchases at the office at any point during the auction. Most people wait until they’ve acquired everything they want. You can also take items to your car once they’re handed to you by the auction-house staff but don’t forget to pay for everything you bought before you leave.
- Don’t assume that just because the auctioneer says an item is by a named company that it is true. Some will honestly say that the item has the style of a particular designer but make it clear that they are not sure. That’s why it’s good to preview items and ask about them beforehand. Remember, items are sold as-is.
- What should you bring? A set amount that you’ll pay for each item (and hope you don’t go over it), boxes and newspapers to wrap glassware and other items. Some houses have boxes available to you. Some do not.
- Once you win a bid, auction houses will hand you the item if it’s a small one, and most ask that you remove your items to prevent thieves or another bidder from taking them. Some houses don’t’ mind if you put items in your car or truck before paying (they have your credit card number). Some expensive items may remain behind a counter until you produce your receipt to claim them.
- Once you buy the item, it’s your responsibility to get it home that day or a couple days later, depending on the auction house. Some auction houses have staff who will deliver oversized items for a fee.
- Don’t be discouraged if you’re out-bidded. Items do come around again at subsequent auctions.
- Don’t be put off by pushy bidders: There will be some of them, but most bidders are nice and decent people like yourself.
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